Mt Kenya was split into two by ‘two strangers’, and Gachagua won

Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua during the inauguration ceremony on September 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua insists that he is bound by the truth and aspires to remain so in his utterances.

But political pundits are now worried that while it is good for him to remain truthful, it is not clear who will tell him the truth about himself.

Mr Gachagua, 57, has inherited the seat of Mt Kenya kingpin in an abrupt and unexpected feat.

It is the first time the region is getting a political kingpin whose political experience is less than five years as a first-time MP.

Before Mr Gachagua, this position of influence was previously held by Dedan Kimathi (pre-freedom era), Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978), Njenga Karume (1978-1992) Kenneth Matiba (1993-1997), Mwai Kibaki (1997-2013) and Uhuru Kenyatta (2013-2022). 

On September 13 at the Kasarani International Sports Centre, Mr Gachagua took his oath as the second most powerful man in Kenya. Before God and man, from 12.53pm to 13.03pm, Mr Gachagua, swore allegiance to his country, raising the Bible high in his right hand with his left on the Constitution held for him by his wife.

While many were yet to come to terms with his phenomenal rise, he was more shocked, as he could not hide his bewilderment when he alighted from his vehicle at the stadium at 11.28am to a rousing welcome from tens of thousands of supporters, who needed a remote control to be muted from wild ululations.

Hypnotised, Mr Gachagua stood rooted, appearing not to know how to behave under such circumstances. But his political and administrative instincts came to his rescue, and he smiled in a manner never witnessed before.

He was to relish a similar moment at 11.53am, when he hugged Dr Ruto into the stadium amid wilder cheers from fans.

It was hard to imagine that this man now being escorted by a dozen security officers to take his oath was the same one arrested at 5am on July 22 last year over corruption allegations and spent the weekend on the hard and cold cement of police cells until Monday, when he was released on a pretrial bond.

He was to detail the arrest as "the most humiliating, where they plucked me from my bed, frog-marched me naked in front of my children so as to take me to Nairobi to humiliate me in the name of politics”. 

Mr Gachagua jumped the queue to beat accomplished political talents like Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri, former National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and even Prof Kithure Kindiki.

It is hard to understand “how our Mt Kenya people defied President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August 9 General Election", said Jubilee secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni, adding that "we made a mistake that might take time to rectify".

He said that "those of us with a conviction will never abandon the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party aspirations and we shall remain true to that cause".

Mr Kioni's stand is the elephant in Mr Gachagua’s house, said Mt Kenya political analyst Prof Ngugi Njoroge. 

"Mr Gachagua will have to work for Mt Kenya unity. If Azimio's running mate [Martha] Karua and Mr Kioni's statements of remaining outside the majority formation that voted for Dr William Ruto as President are anything to go by, then Gachagua has a journey to walk in uniting the region,” he said.

It "is the first time that the Mountain has been split by two strangers and that in itself is a challenge", said career administrator Mr Joseph Kaguthi.

Mr Gachagua, he added, must remain cognisant that for the first time, the Mountain is not united by one of its own or by a political party based in the region.

"More importantly, it is well for Mr Gachagua to know that for the first time, the Mountain giving Mr Odinga more than 800,000 votes is a major [event] that cannot be wished away," he said.

While Mr Gachagua insists that he and some Mt Kenya rebels – including Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Naivasha's Jayne Kíhara, Kikuyu's Kimani Ichung'wa, Gatundu South ex-MP Moses Kuria and Kiharu's Ndindi Nyoro – whipped the Mountain to vote for Dr Ruto, there are many residents who believe Dr Ruto won acceptance on his own and he would have still bagged the region even if he had campaigned alone.

"This is one election where our people behaved in a very new manner. They had followed Dr Ruto on their own and they were the ones who exerted pressure on their politicians to follow them to support him. This time round, they were not herded by their politicians ... it was the other way round," Prof Njoroge said.

But Mr Gachagua believes that Mt Kenya followed him to Dr Ruto, which raises the question that analysts are posing: Would he have succeeded in telling the region not to vote for Dr Ruto if he had attempted it? 

On August 25, Mr Gachagua attempted to answer that question when he attended the swearing-in of Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga.

"You people of Mt Kenya and Nyeri do not know what you have done to me. I will forever remain indebted to you,” he said.

“I came here to beg you not to shame me as your son in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) supporting Dr Ruto. I begged you to dress me up with respect so that I could stand boldly in our politics and declare I have the people behind me.

“You did not betray me, because you voted for our candidates."

In a speech heavily laden with affectionate emotions, many fearing that Mr Gachagua would break down and wail, he said: "I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for not leaving me naked."

On Sunday night, Mr Gachagua said on KTN that "we in Mt Kenya gave the Dr Ruto presidency about 47 percent of total votes".

Mr Gachagua insisted that the sharing of power will be commensurate with that strength, prompting analysts to ask whether he appreciates that he is a national Deputy President who should be pursuing a national healing and unifying cause than being fixated on a 'power grab' by Mt Kenya.

Mr Kaguthi fears that "such pressures on a sworn-in President – that President being the witty fox that is Dr Ruto – will not attract negative engagements bound to breed a counter-attack".

He said that "boardroom haggling for power based on rewards should stick away from the public domain as opposed to the current situation when Mr Gachagua is taking every other opportunity to talk of percentages and sharing of power".

While Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley were important in the numbers game, he said, other regions that rejected Mr Odinga and instead became battlegrounds greatly helped Dr Ruto to win in the first round.

"This is an election where every single vote was important. All votes in Dr Ruto’s win were important, including the very few he got in Luo Nyanza,” Mr Kaguthi said.

He added that “we should give Dr Ruto the latitude to form his government without appearing to hold him hostage, in a manner that can lead him to unite the 53 percent votes to block our capture mentality".

Murang'a Council of Elders chairman Rugami Chombou said "we are giving Mr Gachagua and his troops time to simmer and erupt".

He said it is too early “to start running to Gachagua's camp … when it has not even become clear how he intends to lead Mt Kenya".

He added that "Mt Kenya stands divided along the Kenyatta and Gachagua lines and the first task is to pursue that line that unites the region as well as remaining nationalistic on how to make the nation remain glued together".

The greatest test for Mr Gachagua is how to unite the region, said Nominated MP Sabina Chege.

"It won't be easy ... it might sound populist to say there are no divisions since Dr Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) swept nearly all seats in the region,” Ms Chege told Inooro TV immediately after she was nominated to Parliament, one of only three Jubilee legislators in Mt Kenya.

“But the truth of the matter is that the votes that Azimio received, the serious camps that were in Azimio campaigns ... leave us scattered. He must pursue our unity."

 Besides Ms Chege, the other two Jubilee lawmakers are David Kiaraho (Olkalou) and Mr Kwenya Thuku (Kinangop).

Ms Chege said "respect, dialogue and concessions are the only hope for area unity".

Mr Gachagua is the eighth-born in a family of nine. His parents live in Hiriga village, Nyeri County, a walking distance from the Sagana State Lodge. They fought in the Mau Mau and his father built and serviced guns for freedom fighters. Mr Gachagua must have inherited their willpower.

Described by his close allies as “a man of raw instincts when it comes to forging alliances, hard to please and who never forgives betrayal and handsomely rewards loyalty”, Mr Gachagua is married to Mathira-based Pastor Dorcas Wanjiku and together they have two adult sons.

In 1985, Mr Gachagua joined the University of Nairobi (UoN), graduating with a degree in political science and literature in 1988. At UoN, he was a leader of the Nyeri District University Students Association (Ndusa), and chairman of the Association of Literature Students.

He attended Kabiruini Primary School from 1971 to 1977 before proceeding to Kianyaga High School for his O-levels and A-levels. He underwent paramilitary training at the Administration Police Institute in 1990.

After graduating from university, Mr Gachagua worked at the ministry of home affairs and national heritage before he joined the Administration Police Institute in 1990. After leaving the police college, he was posted to the Office of the President as a district officer cadet, serving between 1991 and 1992.

Mr Gachagua then went on to serve as a district officer in Kakamega, Ng'arua and Laikipia districts. Between 1999 and 2000, he was at the Kenya School of Government, graduating with a diploma in advanced public administration.

Between 2001 and 2006, he was a personal assistant to Mr Kenyatta. From 2007 to 2017, he remained behind the scenes, running his businesses before he contested the Mathira seat in 2017 and won.